Breaking Down Grit: Persistency and Flexibility in the Career Plans of Military Medical Students

Ryan R. Landoll, Krista Highland, Kameha Bell, Anthony R. Artino, Col Lisa K. Moores, Michael Soh, Sebastian Uijtdehaage, Steven J. Durning, Neil E. Grunberg, Ting Dong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: The field of medicine is experiencing a crisis as high levels of physician and trainee burnout threaten the pipeline of future physicians. Grit, or passion and perseverance for long-term goals, has been studied in high-performing and elite military units and found to be predictive of successful completion of training in adverse conditions. The Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USU) graduates military medical leaders who make up a significant portion of the Military Health System physician workforce. Taken together, an improved understanding of the relationships between burnout, well-being, grit, and retention among USU graduates is critical to the success of the Military Health System. Materials and Methods: The current study was approved by the Institutional Review Board at USU and explored these relations among 519 medical students across three graduating classes. These students participated in two surveys approximately one year apart from October 2018 until November 2019. Participants completed measures on grit, burnout, and likelihood of leaving the military. These data were then merged with demographic and academic data (e.g., Medical College Admission Test scores) from the USU Long Term Career Outcome Study. These variables were then analyzed simultaneously using structural equation modeling to examine the relationships among variables in a single model. Results: Results reaffirmed the 2-factor model of grit as both passion and perseverance (or interest consistency). No significant relationships emerged between burnout and other study variables. Sustained and focused interest was predictive of less likelihood of staying in the military. Conclusion: This study offers important insights into the relationship among well-being factors, grit, and long-term career planning in the military. The limitations of using a single-item measure of burnout and measuring behavioral intentions in a short time frame during undergraduate medical education highlight the importance of future longitudinal studies that can examine actual behaviors across a career lifespan. However, this study offers some key insights into potential impacts on the retention of military physicians. The findings suggest that military physicians who are most likely to stay in the military tend to embrace a more fluid and flexible medical specialty path. This is critical in expectation setting for the military to train and retain military physicians across a wide range of critical wartime specialties.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)43-49
Number of pages7
JournalMilitary Medicine
StatePublished - 1 May 2023
Externally publishedYes


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